Chasing Gold

State track, softball and tennis tournaments kick off this weekend with Flathead athletes aiming to reach the podium after amassing top performances at divisional competitions

By Micah Drew
The start of a boys 800 meter race at Glacier High School in Kalispell on April 6, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The spring athletics season is wrapping up with state track and field, tennis and softball tournaments underway this weekend. Here’s a guide to follow the action of Flathead Valley’s athletes.

Track and Field, May 28-29

Class AA-C, Missoula

At last week’s Western AA Divisional meet, which was relocated to Legends Stadium at the last minute due to poor weather in Butte, Flathead and Glacier qualified a total of seven boys and 19 girls in 41 individual events. 

In the sprints, Flathead qualified three girls in the 400 meters, Peyton Walker, Cerise Lee and Tori Noland-Gillespie, all of whom have run close to 60 seconds flat and are in the top 10 statewide, and will be chasing podium spots behind divisional winner Odessa Zentz from Helena, who has a state-leading time of 57.33. 

Glacier sophomore Jeff Lillard hands off the baton on the final exchange of the 4x100m relay at a track meet on April 20, 2020. | Micah Drew

On the men’s side, Glacier’s Jeff Lillard finished runner-up in the 400 and fourth in the 200 meters to advance in both events. Lillard is the second-fastest 400 runner in Class AA this year. 

The Wolfpack also tout strength in the hurdle events, with junior Caleb Bernhardt coming in with the top time in the 300-meter hurdles and fourth fastest in the 110-meter hurdles. Bernhardt finished second and third, respectively, in the events at divisionals. Meanwhile, senior Taylor Brisendine was runner-up in the 100-meter hurdles. 

Lili Rumsey Eash and Hannah Perrin run in a track meet at Flathead High School on April 6, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Flathead’s distance girls, who led the cross country program to a fourth-place finish at last fall’s championships, are a dominant force in the three long-distance track events this year. Hannah Perrin rebounded from a disappointing cross country season to take the win in the 3,200-meter run. Perrin also ran a lifetime best in the mile to finish third, just ahead of teammate Lili Rumsey Eash, with both girls crossing the line in 5 minutes, 9 seconds. Eash and Gillespie also advanced through the divisional meet in the 800 meters.  

Glacier’s Sam Ells, who had already qualified in the 1,600 and 3,200, squeaked into the last spot in the 800 when he laid out at the finish line, beating a Hellgate runner by 5/100 of a second for the final qualifying spot in the state meet. 

A slew of local athletes are making the trip to state in the field events, led by Glacier’s Brisendine, who won the triple jump and had top-five finishes in the high jump and long jump. Flathead’s Mia Stephan (triple), Afton Wride (triple), Tessa Smith (triple, high), Hania Halverson (pole vault) and Kennedy Moore (high) are also making the trip to Missoula next week. 

Taylor Brisendine of Glacier High School competes in long jump in the Montana AA/B state track and field meet in Legends Stadium in Kalispell on May 24, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In the throwing ring, Braves senior Rebecca Eacker easily won the divisional meet with a discus throw of 125-07. She leads the state by 10 feet in the discus and will also compete in the shot put.  

Class A-B, Laurel

Mikenna Ells runs the final leg in the 4 x 100 meter relay in Columbia Falls on May 8, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

At the last state track meet in 2019, the Whitefish girls won the school’s first state title in 35 years, and this year the bull’s eye is on the Bulldogs. The girls won the Western A divisional meet by nearly 40 points over Corvallis and dominate statewide top-10 lists. 

Nowhere is the Bulldogs’ strength more evident than in the sprints. Senior Mikenna Ells handily won all three sprint events, and has state-leading times in the 200 meters and 400 meters. Freshman Brooke Zetooney finished right behind her in the 100 and 200 meters last weekend, and was third in the 400, bringing depth to the sprint squad, which has also run the second fastest times statewide in both of the relays. 

Freshmen Hailey Ells and Maeve Ingelfinger qualified for the state meet in both hurdle events, and Ells will also be competing alongside her older sister in the high jump.

Columbia Falls’ Siri Erickson wins the 800m run at a track meet at Glacier High School on April 6, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

While the Bulldogs have a lock on sprinting speed, Columbia Falls has declared itself top of the distance line. Senior Lara Erickson easily won the 800 and 1,600 at the divisional meet, and holds the state-leading time in both events as well as the 3,200. Her younger sister, Siri, had a runner-up finish in the 1,600 and a top five finish in the 800 to advance to state in both events, along with freshman Isabelle Cooke in the 800 and the 400. 

Bigfork swept the Class B divisional meet by huge margins on both the boys and girls side. Senior high jumper Wyatt Duke will be attempting to win his first state championship after two second-place finishes in the past. Seth Osborne won the divisional pole vault and sits second in the state for the event, while Cormac Benn and Levi Peterson are both ranked in the top 10 in the long and triple jump after finishing top three in both events over the weekend. 

Photo sequence of Bigfork’s Wyatt Duke clearing 6 feet 2 inches en route to winning the high jump competition at Whitefish High School on April 20, 2021. Micah Drew | Flathead Beacon

Another Bigfork athlete to watch is freshman phenom Jack Jensen, who was just out-leaned at the finish line in the 1,600-meter run by Thompson Falls’ Justin Morgan. Jensen has run 4:30.68 in the event this season, though, less than a second off the state-leading time, so another photo finish at the state meet could end up with him out front. 

Softball, May 27-29

Class AA, Kalispell

Glacier hit four home runs in a 16-10 win over Helena High on Tuesday at Batch Field in Helena. || Photo courtesy of Gary Marshall via 406mtsports.com

Glacier’s softball team has only suffered three losses this season, and now two of them have been at the hands of the Sentinel Spartans. 

The teams split during the regular season, making it only fitting that they should meet at the Western AA championship game on May 18. 

Sentinel (20-3) took the win over Glacier (21-3) 13-3 to claim the divisional crown, but both teams area headed to the Class AA state tournament, which will take place at Kidsports in Kalispell. 

The title game remained scoreless through two innings before the Spartans picked up steam, notching four runs in the third before extending the lead to 8-1 by the fifth. 

Glacier’s Kynzie Mohl delivers a pitch during the crosstown softball game on April 16, 2019. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

University of Montana signee Kynzie Mohl hit her fourth home run of the divisional tournament, and her 16th of the season, in the fifth, bringing in another runner and trimming the lead to 8-3, but the Wolfpack were unable to make up any more ground. 

Glacier will open up the state tournament against Billings Senior, the No. 3 seed from the east, and will be aiming to make it back to the title game for the first time since 2016. The Wolfpack won the state championship in 2015 over Big Sky. 

Class A, Butte

The Columbia Falls Wildkats took a hard loss to Polson on May 10, falling 6-5 after coming back from a four-run deficit in the fifth. Polson emerged from the weekend as the top team from the Northwest with a 19-1 record. Columbia Falls will enter the state tournament as the third seed from the Northwest, and will face Park in the first round on Thursday. 

Tennis, May 27-28

Class AA, Kalispell

Rory Smith Flathead County’s top spring 2019 prep sports athletes. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

At the Northern AA tournament at Flathead Valley Community College last weekend, the Wolfpack boys edged out CMR by a single point to continue a decade-long winning streak. 

Senior Rory Smith won his third straight divisional singles title against Flathead’s Nolan White, continuing an undefeated season and looking to defend his state title from 2019. Also coming away with a doubles win for Glacier was Ethan Purdy and Harrison Sanders, their first title. 

In addition to White, boys doubles pair Tommy Wells and Drew Lowry advanced to state for Flathead, which will also be sending six girls to the state tournament, including third-place doubles pair Marcella Mercer and Claire Morris. 

Class A, Billings

Gracie Smyley Flathead County’s top spring 2019 prep sports athletes. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Whitefish’s Gracie Smyley is two years removed from her last state championship, but shows no signs that her tennis game has been interrupted. 

Smyley downed Columbia Falls’ Hannah Schweikert 6-4, 6-0 to take the girls’ singles final at the Western A divisional tournament on Friday after breezing through the early competition. She is a favorite to repeat as champion at the state tournament this week in Billings, and odds are high that the championship match will be a divisional repeat, as Schweikert finished third at the 2019 tournament. 

Cody Schweikert also advanced in doubles with partner Cade Morgan

The Bulldogs finished second overall on the girls side but won the boys title, helped by Jayce Cripe’s singles win over Columbia Falls’ Niels Getts. 

Whitefish will also be sending Joe Brandt and Lauren Brown to the state tournament, as well as the doubles pairs Jack Robertson and Mason Kelch, and Ali Hirsch and Tallory Workman.